My oldest daughter came from a life of trauma. She’s healing now and has worked through a lot of her heartache, but the trauma will never fully leave her. It left a scar that can be softened but not erased entirely.
Sometimes it feels like every time she takes a step forward with emotions or behavior, then the next month she takes two steps backward.
For example, she recently made some bad choices with a friend at school that were completely out of her character. The girl who she made those choices with is also from an unhealthy background. The two of them knew each other from long before my girl came into foster care, and they recently reconnected at school.
The moment the two of them started spending time together, my kiddo’s personality started to change. She stopped hanging out with her healthier friends, she became more hostile to everyone around her, she got in trouble more often at school and home, and she showed less remorse for her actions.
Do I think it’s because this other girl is a terrible influence? Not really. I think my kid has influenced her just as much as the other way around.
The real problem is that trauma is attracted to trauma. Chaos finds solace in chaos.
And for these two girls in particular, they shared a sort of trauma bond by having spent time together during some of the most unstable years of their lives. Now, every time they’re around each other, they go back to the mindset they used to have together. They go back to communicating in the only way they know how to with each other.
They’re no longer healthy preteens who are heading out to recess with their friends. They’re suddenly back to being seven-year-old kids who are heading outside to roam the neighborhood while their parents do drugs or drink alcohol. Without meaning to, they seclude themselves from other kids and feed off of each other’s unhealthiness.
When my daughter is around healthy kids from healthy homes, she doesn’t sit around and gossip about everyone else because healthy kids don’t feel good about gossiping. If my kid starts the gossip train, the other kids will probably shut it down. If they do give in to it, it either won’t be as intense or won’t last as long.
However, when my girl is hanging out with her friend from trauma, neither of them mind the gossiping. In fact, every judgmental word out of their mouths seems to add fuel to their joint fire.
“My mom is such a bitch.” “Yeah, she is.”
“I hate this fucking school.” “Yeah, me too.”
“That girl is such a slut.” “Hell yeah, she is.”
They spoke with foul language together when they were in first and second grade so they feel comfortable doing it now, too. Other kids their age might feel uncomfortable with such vulgar language, but not these two. They’ve heard it their entire lives.
When my daughter is around healthy kids from healthy homes, she also doesn’t feel like she can talk about what’s going on in her personal life because none of those kids will understand. However, when she’s with her friend from trauma, she can talk openly about how angry she feels with her mom for doing drugs, or how unfair it feels that her foster mom can ground her, or how pissed off she is that her caseworker separated her from her family, or how annoying her foster siblings are.
This other girl understands her without judging her.
Is it really so shocking that my daughter would want to be around that person? To be around someone who can empathize with her when she usually feels alone? It’s not shocking at all, actually.
And in the same respect, I think this other girl feels comfort with my daughter. They might be living different lives with different expectations now, but their cores are still the same. They still speak the same language because they were born in the same native communities.
It’s similar to being an English speaker from America who travels abroad to a non-English-speaking country. As the traveler, you feel out of place… like you can’t communicate with anyone around you… like you don’t even look like anyone around you… like you stick out like a sore thumb.
But if you come across another traveler who is from your native country, you’ve suddenly found comfort in someone with shared experiences. You have a commonality in your native communities. The social rules you grew up with are the same so you don’t have to guess at when you’re being offensive to them.
Even if you wouldn’t normally be friends with that person back home, they’re now the most comforting person available to you. They understand you more easily than all of the other people around you, and you know they feel the same.
THAT’S why kids from trauma backgrounds gravitate toward one another. They want to be seen, understood, and comforted by the familiarity of someone who understands their social rules.
The only thing we can do–as people who can’t necessarily empathize with them but love them unconditionally–is to accept that our kids need to feel included and understood. We just need to help them find healthier ways to connect and healthier places to find those connections.